Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kathleen Edwards Scores Again

It’s time to catch up with some quick thoughts on musical releases of spring 2008. First up, Asking For Flowers, by Kathleen Edwards.

My first exposure to Kathleen Edwards came shortly after the release of her second album, Back to Me, in 2005. I’d read the positive reviews of Failer, her 2003 debut, but I’d never gotten around to buying the album, primarily because there’s just too much music, and too little time. Because my mind just seems to work this way, I remember the circumstances of that first exposure very clearly. The family was spending a few days in Santa Cruz, and during a downtown shopping sojourn, spent an hour or so in the neighborhood Borders. I found the album on one of their listening stations, and within moments knew that I’d be walking out of the store with it (after buying it, of course). Back to Me was one of the best albums of that year, and has held up remarkably well. A melting pot of rock, alt-country, and pop, it deserved to be a much bigger hit than it actually was.

Released after a hiatus of nearly three years, Asking For Flowers is notably different in feel and tone than its predecessor. Though there are a couple of great rockers, on the whole the album is slower and more contemplative than its predecessor. Unlike Back to Me, it doesn't jump out at you on first listen. But listeners who stick with it will be rewarded with a set of thoughtful, sometimes amusing, and always focused songs that offer ample evidence of Edwards’ growth and maturation as a songwriter. “Oil Man’s War,” for example, reads almost as if it could have been written by River-era Springsteen.

The highlight of the album is the haunting “Alicia Ross,” in which Edwards puts herself into the mind of the title character (Ross was a young woman who was abducted and murdered in 2005), and what she might have been imagining as she lived her last moments:

Inside of this moment there are
Things I wish I could know
Like my ring size, your ring size,
And the hour I was born
My dad's middle name, your favorite song
Was your darkest day as dark as this one?

Mamma, can you hear me?
As I dragged on my day's last cigarette
He pulled me so hard off my
Very own back door steps
And he laid me in his garden
All the years I've watched him tend
He took me, Mamma
So I could never tell you about it

Now I'm a girl who's face they'll never forget

It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful song, one that will likely stand with any released this year.

Overall, if forced to choose between them, I’d probably voice a preference for Back to Me over the new album, but the two are close enough in quality and different enough in style that making such a choice is, in the end, unnecessary - both are vital works.

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